Authoritarian adaptability and the Arab Spring

Authored by: Stephen J. King

The Routledge Handbook to the Middle East and North African State and States System

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367358877
eBook ISBN: 9780429342486
Adobe ISBN:


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Prior to the Arab Spring, Arab states “upgraded” or fashioned new forms of authoritarian rule. The new forms of authoritarianism differed from the old in terms of ruling coalitions, policies, political institutions and legitimacy strategies. To adapt to new challenges and enrich holders of state power, the new authoritarianism transformed Arab Socialist Republics into crony-capitalist forms of authoritarian rule legitimated by authoritarian elections and sustained by repression. The Arab Spring popular Uprisings broke down autocracies in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Only Tunisia has sustained a democratic transition. Libya and Yemen are mired in civil wars while Egypt’s autocracy has returned to military-autocratic form under General Sisi. This has increased the lure of authoritarian stability in both state and society. The Arab monarchies that did not break down during the Arab Spring utilized strategic repression, state largesse and the examples of fitna (civil strife) in neighbouring countries to sustain their hold on power.

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